Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sandra's Faves of 2011

My New Year's resolution is to see more theater. I just joined Show Showdown last spring, and, as a result, only saw about 16 shows last year. That does not qualify me to do a "Best of" list, but I do have a few favorites I'd like to gush over.

Favorite Revival: The Normal Heart

The Normal Heart--I never saw the original so I can't compare this year's incarnation with the 1985 version. Still, this remarkable show still resonates 25 years later. Audible crying in the audience is heard throughout the conclusion (yes, I shed tears, too) and feels like a communal mourning to all the lives lost to AIDS. Joe Mantello plays Ned Weeks with magnetic earnestness and caps the performances of a truly wonderful cast, including Ellen Barkin, Lee Pace, John Benjamin Hickey, Mark Harelik and Jim Parsons.

Favorite Play: Tape
I'm cheating here because this was also a revival but Stephen Belber’s Tape moved me like no other show in 2011. This Off-Broadway production showed the after effect of high school through sharp observation and gun-fire paced dialogue. Especially good was Don DiPaolo as the lovable loser, Vince.

Favorite Musical: Follies
Oops...another cheat since this is also a revival (Do you see a pattern here? I never saw the wunderkind Book of Mormon so perhaps that's what should be here. But of all the new musicals I viewed (Catch Me If You Can, Wonderland, etc.) not one surpassed Follies in musicality, compelling characters, or plot. Sondheim's show offers songs infused with insight that betray their character's hopes and fears in such a intimate way that even this flawed production levels a hefty emotional impact that lingers far after the initial viewing.

Favorite Actress: Nina Arianda
The prom queen of last year's theater season has to be Nina Arianda, who played Vanda in Venus in Fur, as a remarkable combination of the ultimate ditz turned cunning avenger. Not every actress could don dominatrix wear, sputter out curse-infused blue streaks of dialogue, and still seem realistic as an upper class Victorian socialite.

Favorite Set: Stick Fly Yes, when everyone talks about Stick Fly they mention the uniqueness of the playwright's characters and some of the stunning performances of the cast, but I want to highlight the scenic design for a moment. What a phenomenal set! Lovingly detailed by David Gallo (who also did The Mountaintop), the stage becomes a weekend getaway that reveals several rooms in the house through a clever bookcase cutaway that exposes the kitchen and a slight porch. The intimacy of the set acts almost like another character, revealing family details with photo magnets on the refrigerator, fine works of art on the walls and whimsical stone animals out in the garden.

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